Catch-22

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Themes and Colors
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Gallows Humor Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Catch-22, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon

The novel also offers a commentary on the absurdity of war, and of the bureaucracies wars create. For example: Major Major appears to have been promoted to his position simply because of his name, not his aptitude, and he remains in this position while doing nothing. The chaplain’s assistant, Whitcomb, is an atheist who will carry out none of his superior’s directives out of a desire to ascend to the role of chaplain himself. Scheisskopf, whose only military skill is a love of organizing parades, is promoted to general, and eventually outranks even Dreedle and Peckem. The CID men dispatched to investigate mail-tampering and forgery eventually settle on the chaplain as the culprit—even when the chaplain’s handwriting doesn’t match the letters’, he is still suspected. Major Sanderson, the staff psychiatrist, uses his sessions with Yossarian to expound on his own neuroses and paranoia. And Milo uses military men and material to serve his own economic interests, even going so far as to aid the Germans to broaden his market.

These are examples of the comic dimension of military bureaucracy: Heller does an exquisite job of sending up the Army’s absurdity. But there is also a tragic dimension. Cathcart’s insistence on continued missions leads to dangerous flights over unnecessary targets, and encourages the slaughter of innocent civilians. These missions result in the death of many characters, including Nately, Clevinger, and Havermeyer. The military makes Dunbar “disappear” for his insubordination. And many officers insist on continued air strikes even after the outcome of the war tilts decidedly in the Allies’ favor. These officers, including Peckem, Dreedle, Korn, and Cathcart, are more concerned about their own promotions and recognition than about the lives of their men or of civilians on the ground. Thus the initially comic nature of military bureaucracy obscures the selfishness, narrow-mindedness, and cruelty of many officials that seems to be the product of that bureaucracy.

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War and Bureaucracy Quotes in Catch-22

Below you will find the important quotes in Catch-22 related to the theme of War and Bureaucracy.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Insanity is contagious. This is the only sane ward in the whole hospital. Everybody is crazy but us. This is probably the only sane ward in the whole world, for that matter.

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker)
Chapter 2 Quotes

As far back as Yossarian could recall, he explained to Clevinger with a patient smile, somebody was always hatching a plot to kill him.

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker), Clevinger
Chapter 4 Quotes

You’re inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age?

Related Characters: Dunbar (speaker), Clevinger
Chapter 5 Quotes

Sure there’s a catch . . . Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.

Related Characters: Doc Daneeka (speaker)
Chapter 7 Quotes

But Yossarian still didn’t understand how Milo could buy eggs in Malta for seven cents apiece and sell them at a profit in Pianosa for five cents.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Even among men lacking all distinction he [Major Major] inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.

Related Characters: Clevinger, Major Major
Chapter 10 Quotes

Ex-PFC Wintergreen accepted the role of digging and filling up holes with all the uncomplaining dedication of a true patriot.

Related Characters: Clevinger, Wintergreen
Chapter 11 Quotes

“What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?”
“You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you? And you don’t see him signing any of our loyalty oaths.”
“You aren’t letting him sign any.”
“Of course not . . . that would defeat the whole purpose of our crusade.”

Related Characters: Doc Daneeka (speaker), Captain Black (speaker), Major Major
Chapter 12 Quotes

Despite the multiple perils to which Major _____ de Coverley exposed himself each time he rented apartments, his only injury had occurred, ironically enough, while he was leading the triumphal procession into the open city of Rome . . . .

Related Characters: Clevinger, Major ______ de Coverley
Chapter 14 Quotes

He [Yossarian] was wrong. There had been no clouds. Bologna had been bombed. Bologna was a milk run. There had been no flak there at all.

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian, Clevinger
Chapter 19 Quotes

Colonel Cathcart was a slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six who lumbered when he walked and wanted to be a general. He was dashing and dejected, poised and chagrined.

Related Characters: Clevinger, Colonel Cathcart
Chapter 20 Quotes

What displeased Corporal Whitcomb most about the chaplain, apart from the fact that the chaplain believed in God, was his lack of initiative and aggressiveness.

Chapter 23 Quotes

The Germans are being driven out [of Italy], and we are still here. In a few years you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is a very poor and weak country, and that’s what makes us so strong.

Chapter 24 Quotes

But the Germans are also members in good standing of the syndicate, and it’s my job to protect their rights as shareholders. . . . Don’t you understand that I have to respect the sanctity of my contract with Germany?

Related Characters: Milo Minderbinder (speaker)
Chapter 26 Quotes

Can’t you see me . . I’m wounded! Help me, for God’s sake! Aarfy, help me!

I still can’t hear you . . . .

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker), Aarfy (speaker)
Chapter 27 Quotes

“You have a morbid aversion to dying. You probably resent the fact that you’re at war and might get your head blown off any second.”
“I more than resent it, sir. I’m absolutely incensed.”

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker), Major Sanderson (speaker)
Chapter 30 Quotes

Even people who were not there remembered vividly exactly what happened next. There was the briefest, softest tsst! filtering audibly through the shattering, overwhelming howl of the planes engines, and then there were just Kid Sampson’s two pale, skinny legs, still joined by strings somehow at the bloody truncated hips, standing stock-still on the raft . . . .

Related Characters: Clevinger, Kid Sampson
Chapter 31 Quotes

The War Department replied touchingly that there had been no error and that she [Mrs. Daneeka] was undoubtedly the victim of some sadistic and psychotic forger in her husband’s squadron. The letter to husband was returned unopened, stamped KILLED IN ACTION.

Related Characters: Clevinger, Mrs. Daneeka
Chapter 32 Quotes

And the very next morning they [Yossarian’s four new roommates] got rid of the dead man in his tent! Just like that, they whisked him away! They carried his cot and all his belongings right out into the bushes and simply dumped them there . . . .

Related Characters: Clevinger, Yossarian’s new roommates
Chapter 34 Quotes

“They’re going to disappear him.”
“They’re what? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. I heard them talking behind a door.”
. . .
“It doesn’t make sense. it isn’t even good grammar. What the hell does it mean when they disappear someone?”

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker), Nurses Duckett and Cramer (speaker), Dunbar
Chapter 35 Quotes

No, sir . . . it’s generally known that you’ve flown only two missions. And that one of those occurred when Aarfy accidentally flew you over enemy territory while navigating you to Naples for a black-market water cooler.

Related Characters: Milo Minderbinder (speaker), Aarfy, Colonel Cathcart
Chapter 36 Quotes

You’re damned right we’re going to punish you. But we’re certainly not going to let you hang around while we decide how and when to do it. So get going. Hit the road.

Related Characters: Chaplain Tappman
Chapter 37 Quotes

Do you know what he wants? He wants us to march. He wants everyone to march!

Related Characters: Scheisskopf
Chapter 38 Quotes

You know, I said to Colonel Korn and Colonel Cathcart that I didn’t think they ought to make you fly any more missions if you didn’t want to, and they said they were very disappointed in me.

Related Characters: Colonel Cathcart, Colonel Korn
Chapter 39 Quotes

Catch-22 . . . . Catch-22. Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.

Chapter 41 Quotes

Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. . . . The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret.

Related Characters: Clevinger, Snowden
Chapter 42 Quotes

Goodbye, Yossarian . . . and good luck. I’ll stay here and persevere, and we’ll meet again when the fighting stops.

Related Characters: Chaplain Tappman (speaker), John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian